Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An American student witnesses the internal democracy of Al-Ghad party.

Two days ago, internal elections on the 4 seats of deputies in the Alexandria chapter of al-Ghad liberal party were as competitive as you may imagine. Sallie, an American student working on her thesis in Egypt, was there during the vote counting and subsequent celebrated declaration of results. She wrote the following post on her blog. We publish it after her permission:

A Day with Ayman Nour and al-Ghad

Ayman Nour walking to the al-Ghad party headquarters in Alexandria

Yesterday I found myself smack in the middle of Egyptian politics.
After a last-minute invitation from a new friend, I hopped on a mini-bus at 9am for the three-hour trip from Cairo to Alexandria. Thankfully the trip was completely uneventful, and the bus was even air-conditioned. Around 1pm we found ourselves sitting at a beach-front cafe sipping fresh juices (strawberry for me, guava for her) and reveling in the clean air and smell of the sea. We took a long stroll down the corniche (the road which runs along the water) and found ourselves outside Ayman Nour’s apartment at quarter to three – 15 minutes early! (Apparently neither of us have gotten back on Egyptian time yet.)

(Quick background: Ayman Nour is a well-known figurehead of opposition politics in Egypt. Formerly a member of the Wafd party, Nour left to form al-Ghad (Tomorrow) party in 2004. Al-Ghad was officially licensed just in time for Nour to run for President in 2005, Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential elections since Nasser’s revolution in 1952. Nour came in second to president Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981. Officially Nour received 8% of the vote, but there is speculation that the actual percentage was much higher. Following the election Nour was convicted on forgery charges largely recognized as politically motivated and spent nearly four years in prison. He was released in February of 2009.)

We relaxed in the living room for a while, and eventually the five of us – myself, my friend, Nour, his secretary in Alexandria, and another Ghad party member – left for lunch. Nour nodded out the window to a guard station as we piled into the car. The four men at the station were watching us, and while three of them didn’t seem particularly concerned the fourth was looking between us and his phone. He was letting his superior know we were leaving the house, Nour said.

Anyone who argues that Nour’s popularity has fallen since his release from prison last year (and multiple tabloid-esque stories in the media) has not seen him in public. From the moment we entered the mall, where we stopped for lunch with other al-Ghad members, the flow of people stopping to speak with Nour, shake his hand, or take a picture with him did not abate until we got back in the car to go home at the end of the night. Men and women young and old approached him, all with smiles and handshakes and waiting cameras.

Eventually we made our way to the al-Ghad party headquarters for the Alexandria chapter. It was election day at the party – there were two issues on the ballot, and a petition as well. The first issue on the ballot was the deputy election (4 available seats, 5 candidates). The other, a referendum to confirm the party’s nomination of Ayman Nour as presidential candidate. The office, the entranceway, and the street outside were full of people milling about, speaking animatedly, talking on their phones, and vying for a moment with Nour.

Eventually my friend and I made our way inside, where there was just as much commotion. People coming to vote, and to sign their names next to their thumb-print on the petition. The petition is for a constitutional amendment to change the current electoral law, an issue supported by figures from Nour to Mohamed el-Baradei, the Egyptian former head of the IAEA. The ruling NDP party, however, has stated that it does not intend to propose constitutional amendments before the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Signing the petition

Yet al-Ghad is determined to prove that change is possible. According to Mohamed el-Wasemy, the Vice-President of the Executive Office for al-Ghad in Alexandria, the party’s internal elections are a lesson for both the party and the Egyptian people at large. The ballot counting was something that probably none of us have ever seen before. The ballot boxes are made of glass, a visual reminder of al-Ghad’s commitment to transparency. The ballots were counted out loud in front of a crowd of more than 60 people, the tallies marked on a board at the front of the room. During Friday night’s tally, every time the marker made a mistake and marked a tally for the wrong candidate, a dozen voices instantly called out and the error was immediately corrected. Each party member seated or standing in the room was watching carefully.

El-Wasemy called the elections a message to Egyptians. “A free election is not impossible to achieve,” he said.

“Political activism is the best way to bring about change in Egypt,” said Mohamed, a member of al-Ghad’s youth chapter, echoing el-Wasemy’s sentiments in an interview earlier in the day. Mohamed is a fairly new member of al-Ghad and sees the party as the only challenge to the regime. Neither the Reform and Development party or the Karama party have received official licenses, and Mohamed said that much of the other supposed opposition in the country has been created by the regime to play the part of opposition without actually being such.

Whether al-Ghad offers real opposition to the ruling NDP or not, the Tomorrow party faces many obstacles in its battle for change. Mohamed pointed to the broken lock and handle on the door of the room we were in. “Obviously we have no funding,” he said. Yet, despite the challenges, many in the party were hopeful as they gathered in the street following the election results.

“Say to me, mabrouk!” called out one of the newly elected deputies. I laughed and said to him, “Mabrouk!” Another new deputy echoed, “And me, and me!” Mabrouk – congratulations.

As the evening drew to a close, the crowd gathered on the street and slowly dispersed. Someone brought cake, and as we stood around talking a young member who spoke a little English walked over. “We call Obama the American Tutankahman,” he said. “We like Obama.” Why? I asked. “Some people love Obama because his father was Muslim,” he said. “But for me, his vision and charisma.”

After talk of el-Baradei (the headquarters of his National Association for Change in Alexandria is located in al-Ghad’s offices), corporate scandal, and a shocked exclamation of, “What is this language?!” as someone tried to decipher my notes, it was time to head back to Cairo. This time, my friend and I caught a ride with a party member back to the city. It was 11:30pm, and past 2am by the time we arrived back in Cairo.

An eventful eighteen hours, to be sure. I wonder what is next?

Nour surrounded by party members

Sallie Pisch

Alexandria, March 13th, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

EGYPT: First presidential candidate announced

Ayman Nour, founder of El Ghad opposition party, is the first candidate to officially state his intention to run in the nation’s 2011 presidential elections.

Nour was nominated by the majority of his party’s council earlier in the week. "Last time the decision to run for president was my own," he said, "but this time it is my destiny as the party has chosen me and this is a patriotic responsibility that I do not have the right to reject."

The feisty lawyer finished as runner-up to President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt’s first multi-candidate elections in 2005, but soon afterward, he was charged with forging signatures in support of his run against Mubarak. Human rights organizations said the charges had been trumped up, but Nour was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released last February on medical grounds.

Anyone convicted of such a crime in Egypt is barred from running for the presidency for at least five years after the expiration of the sentence. Still, Nour is confident that the legal system will be on his side when he tries to overturn the ban.

"This will be a legal and constitutional fight and we are ready to launch into it," he said. "We have judicial and constitutional provisions as well as decisions from the Constitutional Court that refute the textual justification for the ban on my participating in politics."

Nour added that he will start his campaign on Thursday by visiting a number of cities, including El Mahalla in the Nile Delta and Port Said by the Suez Canal. In the meantime, two activists belonging to opposition movement, April 6, have been detained on Wednesday for spray-painting walls in Cairo with slogans showing support to former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and potential candidate, Mohamed ElBaradei.

ElBaradei, who will return to Egypt on Friday, left his post at the IAEA in November, and many Egyptians are hoping that he will consider running for president. The former Nobel Peace Prize-winner previously said that he would run only if fair, transparent and internationally monitored elections are guaranteed beforehand.

Mubarak has been in office since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, and the 81-year-old is yet to confirm whether he will be the ruling National Democratic Party’s (NDP) candidate. Speculations mixed with fear have recently grown among millions of Egyptians that Mubarak is grooming Gamal Mubarak, his younger son and head of the NDP’s policies committee, to take his place as head of state.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nour plans to run for president

By Amr Emam
Saturday, January 30, 2010

Opposition activist Ayman Nour announced yesterday his desire to run for president in Egypt’s next presidential polls, downplaying the effect of what he called the “legal stumbling blocks” the Government allegedly puts on the opposition’s way to presidency.

Nour said he felt obliged to run in the next elections, which are slated for 2011, so that Egypt could be “put” on track yet again.
“It’s necessary for everyone of us to act now to rescue the future of this country,” Nour said.

“Egypt’s future is in danger and a quick action is required if this country is to continue to hold,” he told The Gazette in an interview.

Nour, the founder of the opposition el-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, called for the formation of a new constitution and a transitional cabinet to be headed by former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed el-Baradie to prepare Egypt for what he called “fair” elections.

Nour came a distant second to Egypt’s incumbent President Hosni Mubarak in the country’s first contested presidential elections in 2005.

Some people say, Nour, who was previously convicted and sent to five years in jail for fabricating party documents, has many legal hindrances ahead if he wants to run for president.

He, however, says he had loaded his guns with the necessary legal arguments and documents to sort this legal problem out.

“If my party chooses to field me as a candidate in the elections, I would seek ways to find a solution to this problem,” Nour said.

“My party would ratchet up the necessary internal and external pressure to make this possible,” he added, without elaboration.

Members from Nour’s party are due to meet on Friday to agree whether they will pick him as
the party‘s presidential candidate.

Despite this, he has already started his campaign by touring more than 20 Egyptian cities to meet ordinary citizens and talk to them about his programme.

Nour, in his mid forties and a lawyer by profession, says he had found support everywhere he went, making him encouraged even more to run for president.

Mubarak, who has been ni power swince 1981, has not said yet wheite he will run for a 6th six-year term in office.

But in a recent interview with the Police Magazine, the President said he would welcome candidates who would “serve” the people.

Heartened by this, Nour is optimistic about his prospects in the elections. “I found support everywhere and this gives me hope,” Nour said.

“People’s feelings to my campaign are more than encouraging,” he added.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ayman Nour: One year since Obama’s inauguration

Barack Hussein Obama has made history since he became the first black person to win a seat in the U.S. Senate and made history for the second time when he won the Democratic Party’s nomination for the Presidential election. He has since made more history when he scored victory in the elections, becoming the first black American President in history.

But making history is different than entering this space and formulating the wide consequences resulted from this victory, as before Obama, American President James Buchanon also made history as the first and the only president to remain a lifelong bachelor, as well as President Martin Van Buren, considering English was not his mother tongue.

Obama’s real problem from the moment of his inauguration last January 20, 2009, is that he began a new phase, which is greater than making history; a difficult stage of the competition, much harder than the old Republican rivals or even his stubborn Democratic rival – and his current Secretary of State – Hilary Clinton, or with his predecessor: Bush.

Obama’s rival after one year in office is himself. He is the only person he cannot defeat, as Obama, the current President of the United States, is a rival to Obama – who was described by the dreamy minds as “the savior”; minds that painted the image of Obama and put it in the background of the image. They drew the descriptions of Moses splitting the sea and Joshua who stopped the sun, and Christ, who revives the dead! And certainly, Obama is not any of these prophets.

Although America is part of the world – and not the whole world – Obama has become a universal dream, especially considering the other was a universal nightmare. Strangely enough, and dangerous, is the conflicting expectations about Obama from related parties whose positions have conflicting interests and can only be unified by hope and ambition in this “magical” image. They have planted in their imagination of Barack Obama, who has to find an impossible approach to fulfill this imagination.

Obama’s problem, who had plenty of sympathy in Egypt and many Arab countries is doubled due to historical considerations and past experience with former presidents of the US, who at the beginning were greeted by them [Arabs], then they called on for their impeachment.

At the end of World War I President Woodrow Wilson made the 12 principles his priority. The last of these principles was the right of every nation to self-determination and Egypt’s Revolution in 1919 was against the British occupation of Egypt, demanding the right to self-determination, and the demonstrators shouted slogans honoring Saad Zaghloul (revolutionary leader) and Mr. Wilson.

In Syria, demonstrations demanded an American Mandate in the hope of the promise of Wilson.

Suddenly, President Wilson recognized the British protégé in Egypt, and demonstrations were organized to call for his impeachment, after it was organized in the beginning to cheer his life! The same thing happened in Syria, when he recognized the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon!

When President Roosevelt declared the Four Freedoms, the motivation of Arabs turned from Hitler to America, then Truman succeeded Roosevelt, to recognize Israel, breaking Roosevelt’s promises during World War II, causing a shock to the Arabs and a shift in their feelings as they were frustrated.

This happened in 1956, when America gained its popularity back, for its stance against the tripartite aggression on Egypt, the popularity that has soon faded away because of America’s rejection in financing the construction of the High Dam.

When the Egyptian-American relations were restored, the Egyptian people welcomed President Nixon in an unprecedented event, then Carter remained to hold a special place in the hearts of Egyptians until America’s constant bias with Israel, which has been the cause of the deterioration of the Egyptian-American Rapprochement for years.

Obama’s real rival is the image of Obama himself, people who chant for his favor may in fact chant and shout against him. Only if he decided to read history well to be able to make it again after one year has already been lost.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Sectarianism and other untold stories

Never ever fear a nation which examines its actions, and refuses to buck in disclosing its faults and sins. Never ever expect any good from a nation which arrogantly insists on continuing with its mistakes and denying the obvious truth.

Yes, we have a Coptic problem! No one can deny that the crisis of confidence in relationships is the result of many historical and modern accumulations of the problem. Some of them happened by chance and some others were purposefully committed by bad intentions.

We have to confess this unfortunate reality, in order to reach the right diagnosis of the problem and put a clear vision for a remedy. Facing the problem with silence, as usual, is like conspiring to tolerate the crime, which threatens the unity and safety of our homeland. Apathy will only lead us to the painful bottom of agony.

It is our turn now to try clarifying the facts of the crisis and specify its real features and causes.

First: the relationship between sectarian tension and public tension in Egypt. Actually, most of the problems described as “Coptic” are mainly Egyptian problems that are doubled on the Copts. One of them, for instance, is the bitter feeling of the absence of justice, civil rights and equality.

Second: we have a Coptic problem related to media and education. In media, I refuse the demand of some groups to give a special immunity to Copts as much as we refuse using sectarian language in media discourse and the absence of tolerance and the culture of political and religious multiplicity.

On education, school curriculum is still incapable of understanding the real mission of education in enhancing the culture of citizenship and human rights. On his first day in office, the new Minister of Education ordered removing the training programs of human rights and citizenship from school curricula. Moreover, the current curricula are missing proper presentations of Coptic civilization, which continued for more than six centuries in Egypt. Coptic history is an essential part of our civilization; we cannot just ignore or marginalize it in our schools. This would weaken the relationship between citizens to a large degree of their inherited culture!

Third: the overwhelming feeling of injustice for Copts is the result of several factors; e.g. depriving them from occupying certain positions in state in an offensive manner. They are not valued for their patriotism or qualifications. They are classified as second degree citizens, especially in regard to leadership and political positions. Some security apparatuses do not hire Copts at all, like the State Security Bureau.

Fourth: the need for the immediate abolition of the “Hamayouni” manuscript issued in February 1856 by the Sublime Porte, as well as bizarre conditions issued by Major-General Mohamed El-Ezaby Pasha, Minister of Interior, in February 1934 regarding building churches. They should be changed into building a unified law for houses of worship in Egypt in accordance with article 46 of the Constitution, which stipulates citizens’ equal right to practicing religious rituals.

Fifth: The need to issue a number of important legislation to face the reasons behind the sectarian tensions. One of these legislation should provide a penalty for religious discrimination or disdaining religions. Another legislation should handle the personal affairs of Copts. Nevertheless, creating a unified law for building houses of worship. In addition, a new electoral system based on the proportional list should be established in order to give better chances for Copts, women, youth, and other minorities for equal representation in municipal councils, Parliament and the Shura Council.

These are some of the few proposals for the solution of this crisis!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

El Ghad Denounces Violence against Christians in Nagaa Hammady

El Ghad Denounces Violence against Christians in Nagaa Hammady

El Ghad Party denounces the terrorist attack against a number of Egyptian citizens which took place as they were leaving Nagaa Hamady’s Church in Quena after Christmas Mass. We see this incident which left seven dead, including the policeman in charge of securing the Church, and many injured, in the context of an accumulation of many previous incidents, which went unresolved as the perpetrators were rarely punished and the law thrown aside. This has culminated an atmosphere of lawlessness as the State failed to protect its citizens and enforce the law, instead resorting to failed political tactics.

This last tragic incident is yet another sign on the failure of a tyrannical regime and the political, social and economic consequences of corruption, oppression, incompetence and misgovernment. This should not, however, blind us from seeing a number of other alarming issues;

  • The gross negligence on the part of the security authorities which failed in securing this important church on Christmas day.
  • A rise in the culture of violence and conflict in place of tolerance, co-existence, equality and citizenship.
  • Abuse of religious sentiments to promote hatred instead of love, compassion and tolerance.
  • Failure of Egyptian Media and Educational Institutions in spreading values of tolerance and citizenship as many channels and outlets have been hijacked by extremists and fanatics.

El Ghad Party renews its constant demands to resolve these issues and address the grievances of Christian citizens and all Egyptians. El Ghad presents its liberal reform agenda as basis for coexistence, tolerance, liberty and progress.

El Ghad Party conveys its deepest sympathies and condolences to families of the victims and presents the following demands:

  • Swift pursuit and trial of the perpetrators.
  • Accountability for negligence and failure to properly secure the church.
  • Dismissal of the Minister of Interiors and other officials found responsible for gross negligence.
  • Allowing peaceful demonstrators to express their grievances in accordance with the law and the constitution.
  • Putting an end to failed policies of denial, cover-up and compromise which has rendered the law ineffective.

To all Egyptian citizens, El Ghad calls for resorting to reason, self-restraint, dialogue and transparency in order to resolve chronic problems of sectarian nature before it is too late